When I’ve spoken at high school career days, the most often asked question (after how much do you make?) is “How do you become a cosmetic chemist?” Since you may soon be looking for a chemist career that uses your science background, you might be wondering the same thing. Before we get into the steps to becoming a cosmetic chemist, let’s review what a cosmetic chemist is first.
What is a cosmetic chemist
The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product. You also have to come up with ideas for new products, test cosmetic prototypes, fix production problems, evaluate competitive products, and develop skills to better understand the difference between a good product and one that doesn’t work as well. If you like using products, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that.
There is a whole lot more that cosmetic chemists do and for a more thorough list, you can see these 75 things a cosmetic chemist does.
A cosmetic chemist can find a job with cosmetic manufacturers like some of the biggest cosmetic companies, raw material manufacturers, contract manufacturers, testing houses, or can even start your own formulating consulting business. It’s a fun job with lots of opportunity to be creative and make products that people use every day.
Here’s the quick summary
- Get a science degree
- Get an advanced degree in cosmetic science
- Research companies in the industry
- Figure out what cosmetic science job you want
- Apply for jobs and interview
- Start with a temporary job in a lab
- Network with cosmetic chemists
How to become a cosmetic chemist
Alright, now that you know you want to be a cosmetic chemist and a little about what they do, here is a path you can follow to become a cosmetic chemist yourself. There are different paths, but the following has proven consistently effective.
Steps to Becoming a Cosmetic Scientist
1. Get a science degree
Some people attempt to learn formulating on the Internet, start their own company, then declare themselves a cosmetic chemist. This isn’t how most people in the cosmetic industry become cosmetic chemists. Most people get a science degree from a college or university. The most common degrees that cosmetic scientists get are bachelors degrees in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biology, or Microbiology. You also find a few Physics majors too. For most companies, the specific school you attend is less important than the degree you received however, in the United States, big companies tend to hire people from schools on the east coast.
Recently, a few schools have developed undergraduate chemistry programs that focus on Cosmetic Science. In the US, this includes the University of Toledo and the University of Cincinnati. In Canada, Seneca College also has an undergraduate cosmetic science degree.
2. Get an advanced degree
While a 4-year degree is all you need, bigger companies like P&G, Unilever or L’Oreal tend to favor students who have Masters or PHD degrees chemistry or chemical engineering. The truth is that most of these degrees do not help make you a better cosmetic scientist. The training you receive on-the-job is much more valuable. However, advanced degrees do tend to make you a more desirable hire when going through the interview process. Plus having an advanced degree is generally just a good idea for scientists.
If you are going to get an advanced degree and want to focus on cosmetic science, there are a few cosmetic science focused programs in universities around the United States. The most popular programs include
Go here to find a more detailed list of more cosmetic science programs.
3. Research the Cosmetic Industry
While you are going through school it’s a good idea to start building up your network of people who work in the cosmetic industry and to get to know the companies in the industry. There are literally thousands of scientists and chemists working in the cosmetic industry in the US. In fact, the Society of Cosmetic Chemists has over 5000 members. The worldwide organization, the International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemist (IFSCC) has over 15,000 members. You can join these organizations as a student member and attend meetings and conferences. This will get you introduced to industry people which could eventually lead to getting a job.
It’s also a good idea to create a profile on LinkedIn and start connecting with other people who work in the cosmetic industry. Knowing people at companies is the fastest way of getting a job in the cosmetic industry. Fortunately, the cosmetic industry is a growing one because even in uncertain economic times people will still want to look good and use cosmetics.
There are various types of companies that employ cosmetic scientists and chemists. These include finished goods manufacturers, contract manufactures, raw material suppliers, and testing laboratories.
A great place to learn more about what is going on in the cosmetic industry is through the trade journals.
4. Decide on a cosmetic industry job
In college, they rarely tell you what kind of job you might get when you graduate. In fact, when you are studying science you are typically trained to become a professor. If you are looking to work as a scientist in the cosmetic industry there are a wide variety of jobs to choose from. Use the list below to see which one best fits your interests.
a. Cosmetic Formulator — This job involves working with chemicals and putting them together in proportion to create products. Most of these jobs are with Finished Goods & Contract manufacturers. A few raw material suppliers employ formulators in their Technical Services departments. If you like inventing and creating, the formulator is where you should be.
b. Quality Control Chemist (QA/QC)— These chemists are responsible for determining whether raw materials and finished products meet quality standards for safety and functionality. If like working with GC, IR, Mass Spec and other instruments, you might enjoy a QC or QA job. Every company in the industry hires these scientists.
c. Analytical Services — These scientists are the closest thing in the cosmetic industry to scientific research. They review raw materials and come up with standards by which future batches of products and raw materials are compared. Most raw material suppliers and finished goods manufacturers have Analytical Departments.
d. Process Engineering (PE)— A process engineer is typically someone with a chemical engineering background. They help companies design manufacturing facilities, help scale up batches from lab scale to production scale, and help get products made at different facilities around the world. If you like to travel, building things and engineering then this might be the job for you. Almost any cosmetic company with manufacturing facilities will hire PE scientists.
e. Synthesis Chemist — If you loved organic chemistry, then raw material synthesis is the place you should be. These chemists work in labs and synthesize new raw materials from various feedstocks. Often, you don’t know what a material can do but you know you can make it. Most of these jobs will be with raw material suppliers.
f. Regulatory Scientists — Regulatory scientists look through rules and regulations for producing cosmetic products and determine whether ingredients can be used, how they must be labeled, and what levels are appropriate. For the people who like science but don’t want to be in the lab, a job in regulatory is a good place to go. Nearly all companies hire regulatory scientists and (unfortunately) more and more jobs are being added. I say unfortunately because more governmental regulations make it tougher to create innovative cosmetics.
g. Sales — Sales people with scientific backgrounds are needed by raw material companies to sell their new chemicals to formulation chemists. If you like talking to people, going out to lunch and negotiating, a job in sales might be right for you. Plus, these are the people in the industry who usually have the most flexible jobs and make the most money.
The exact job you should take will depend on what you are interested in. You can find more about jobs on this episode of the cosmetic science podcast
5. Getting a cosmetic chemist job
To actually get a job, the first thing you are going to want to do is put together a resume. You should be working on this near the end of your junior year in college or certainly in the early part of your senior year. The sooner you have a resume, the sooner you can start sending it to HR departments. You can go the old fashioned route of looking through want ads or college career offices, but you can also use the power of the Internet. For finding jobs, you can use career sites like
In addition to creating a resume, you should also put together a profile on LinkedIn.com. This site will allow people to find you and for you to find and connect with them. The most frequent way that people get jobs is by knowing a person at a company who is hiring. Often, companies will pay other employees bonuses if they recommend someone who gets hired. Therefore, if you increase your network of people in the cosmetic industry, you will improve your chances of getting a job.
Another great source of finding cosmetic industry specific jobs is through the various Society of Cosmetic Chemist websites. You can see this link for a list of all the jobs currently listed on SCC websites across the United States.
6. Get a temporary job in a cosmetic lab
It is admittedly sometimes difficult to find your perfect job right out of school. Another route to finding a great permanent job is to start at a temporary staffing agencies. Many big companies use these services for short-term projects and they often hire people who worked for them first as temporary workers. A number of people that I worked with at my old company were hired specifically after working as temporary lab technicians.
To get started with a temporary agency, put together your resume or CV and submit it to a scientist focused temp agency to get your first assignment. You may or may not end up in a cosmetic lab but it will be a great training opportunity while you look for a more permanent position. Some of the more useful temp agencies used by the cosmetic industry in the US include
7. Networking with other cosmetic chemists
Perhaps the most powerful way to get a job in the cosmetic industry is to get involved a professional society like the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC). And the main way for you to do that is to find an industry event, go to that event and make it a point to interact and collect business cards or contact information from as many people as you can.
For the cosmetic industry you can find events located near you by going to the website of the local chapter of your Society of Cosmetic Chemists (or Scientists as the call it in the UK). Find a meeting or trade show or some other event that you can attend in person. Be sure you have a good supply of business cards that have your name, phone number and email on it. This should have all the information anyone would need to get connected or otherwise contact you. If you have social media accounts like Twitter or LinkedIn be sure to include that information on your business card.
There are chapters throughout the US. In the UK you can join the Society of Cosmetic Scientists. For other places in the world, check seek out the IFSCC for contact information.
When you get to the meeting, interact with other cosmetic chemists. For some people, this is easy. For others it’s not as easy. You have to figure out something to talk about which can sometimes be a challenge. But the best thing you can do is to ask questions. Get the other person talking as much as you can. Ask who they work for, what they do, where they’re from, what they are interested in and anything else you can think of. Remember you should not be the one dominating the conversation. When you’re at these events ask lots of questions.
Perhaps the most important question you can ask is to find out what the person’s biggest challenge is. Figure out what they are having the hardest time doing. Ideally, this will be some work issue since this is an industry event but it might not be. Make it a point to remember what that is (write it down on their card if you have to) and think about how you might be able to help them accomplish or solve whatever problem they are experiencing. Even if you can’t personally solve the problem it would be helpful if you could connect them with someone who can. This will make them more inclined to help you in the future.
If you start building or expanding your network now, you’ll be in a much better position for whenever you need to reach out for help in the future.
Another thing you can do is to become active on social networking sites. On Chemists Corner we have a forum where you can connect and chat with other cosmetic chemists. But be sure to create a LinkedIn profile. This is where professionals hang out and post their career information. Think of it as a fluid, online resume. But it’s even better because you can strike up relationships with people all over the industry of which you want to become part. Another great resource is Facebook. People often list the names of the companies they work for and the jobs they do. Do a little searching and create some important relationships.
Take Action now!
Cosmetic science is a great career for a scientist. It can be constantly challenging and requires a creative mind to make formulas that stand out. It also provides you the opportunity to walk down the aisles of your local store and see your creation for sale on the shelves. That is incredibly satisfying.
Do you have any ideas on how to get a job in the cosmetic industry? Leave a comment below and let the rest of the community know.